How Green Was My Woods? Honest, Who Saw It Coming?
Who saw Tiger Woods’ emotional Masters win coming? Certainly not the William Hill bet shop that coughed up $1.2 M to a single bettor when Woods ended his 14-year winless streak on the PGA Tour’s major event, The Masters?.
They had reason to be blindsided. Two years ago Woods was a broken man with few prospects of swinging a club again, let alone winning a green jacket.
So the experts scoffed at the idea of a comeback. Hey, IDLM was among them. Even as he neared his moment of deliverance the prognosticators were dubious. Good call.
It was weekend of wonky prognostication. Everywhere you looked there were panels of experts at the Masters, the NHL and NBA playoffs turning their critical eye to events, using their vast experience to parse events and predict outcomes.
But if you believe those who’ve studied the Prognostication Game, you’d have the same predictive results on winners and losers by spinning a bottle. The same goes for the experts who populate the financial markets and the political realm as well.
As Nobel Economic Prize winner Daniel Kahneman points out in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, research does not flatter experts. He shows how psychologist Phillip Tetlock’s experiments showed that the TV experts on sports, politics and commerce produce poorer results “than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices every over the results. Even in the region they knew best the specialists were not significantly better than non-specialists”.
He concludes, “the illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.” He calls it the illusion of validity. Kahneman defines the formula for success= talent + luck. Great success= a little more talent + a lot of luck. In short, the pregame hours of insider tips and breathless predictions may be entertaining but it’s not illuminating.
Now, IDLM is not going to criticize too heavily. The panelists are paid (often overpaid) by their bosses to supply answers to the vexing questions of “Who will come out on top?” And, to be honest, almost no one totes up the tally of who was right and how often.
Back when we were asked for predictions we gamely ruminated and cogitated and spat out hot takes. After a while being wrong I’d simply tell questioners that I didn’t make predictions. “If I was any good at it I’d be in Vegas making a living on my wits.”
My most famous correct prediction came in the 1986 World Series between the Mets and the Red Sox. For my CBLT segment I placed the jerseys of the teams on hangers against the wall. Then I told my then-one-year-old son Evan to pick a winner. He crawled across my living room, paused a moment, and then pulled down the Mets jersey. The New Yorkers famously won in seven.
In our December 17, 2017 column we looked at why so-called experts are fooled about the concept of reversion to the mean “The next performance was likely a product of a concept known as regression to the mean— something first recognized in the nineteenth century by Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin). Put simply, in something like sport or flying jets there is a tendency for great performances to be followed by a drop-off in production. Likewise, a subpar effort by a talented athlete is highly likely to produce a bounce-back effort.”
“Kahneman urges you to follow the PGA Tour for a couple of weeks. The media tend to overrate the player who puts up a 66 in Day One, lauding his skill, his judgement and his putting as being the margin between him and the players who shot par 72. They’ll also rip a player who posts a 77, criticizing his shot selection, his distance control and his clubs.
But over the course of the four days of the tournament, the player who shot 66 and the one who put up the 77 on the same course and in similar weather are likely to see their results return to the norm of even-par 72 at some point in the contest. The player who shoots 66 isn’t going to torch the course everyday, even if he still wins. The unlucky 77 shooter makes a great bet to improve the next day— even if he still misses the cut.
The difference? Luck.”
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.